So, I get off the Shinkansen at Shin-Kobe station at 9am and I make my way to the subway, kinda decompressing from the long bullet train ride, excited to be in a new city and anxious about my presentation scheduled for that afternoon. As I make my way up the escalator I notice that people are standing to the right as opposed to standing on the left like we do in Tokyo / Yokohama, but I'd seen this before on my previous trip to this region several years back.
In fact, there were a number of little differences, and some big ones. But there was one difference that kind of blew my mind.
The train was arriving as I reached the platform and, after a lot of people got off, I boarded and grabbed a seat. It wasn't crowded at all so everyone had a wide selection to choose from. Several people that got on after me sat down, as well. One directly across from me, and another right near me.
I looked at them both. So these are Kobe people, I thought. The first I was to see up-close. I couldn't see much difference. They looked a little less stylish, more, I dunno, "country" doesn't quite capture it. Maybe just a bit less concerned with perfection than I'd become accustomed to seeing in Tokyo / Yokohama area. And not wound up so tight. Tense enough to snap would best describe the people I see generally. There was none of that at least on this Kobe train ride.
The train pulled into another station. A lot of people got on. Kids with parents, school girls heading to some club activity maybe, people just living their lives. They sat or stood, anywhere, everywhere, laughed and talked, read and listened to music, played games and slept.
It was a twenty minute ride from Shin-Kobe to the stop I was headed. And for the WHOLE ride, of people coming and going, no one even gave me a second glance or thought. I swear it could have been NY...and in 10 years here I can say that has never happened!
No one behaved in any way to indicate that my presence was anything but nothing special. Not even the kids! There was nothing unusual in their vicinity, nothing beyond the pale. No assaults on their homogenized sensibilities. Just life, humans, people, nothing special whatsoever.
It started freaking me out after about 5 minutes. I've gotten so accustomed to the exact opposite, to a reaction, that I thought this lack of reaction had to be intentional. Are they fucking with me? Like some wacky Japanese game show? The "Let's Fuck with a Foreigner show"? Cuz I was really feeling fucked with.
The girl sitting across from me stands up and gets off, as did a number of people, and an old man (with a wide selection of seats to choose from mind you) comes and sits where she'd been. He sat there, saw me, and stared. At me. directly...which allowed me to cross out one of my suspicions: that I had somehow become invisible.
And I realized this kinda "fucked with" feeling was a good feeling.
In the back of my mind I recalled people suggesting such things in the past. My friend in Osaka told me once that he didn't ever experience the kind of stuff I've written about from time to time, and I'd told him, "really? unbelievable." But, now that I was seeing what he'd been seeing, it was damn trippy! But, in a good way.
I smiled at the old man still staring at me and nodded my head. He smiled right back.
So this is Kobe, eh? Not bad.
For the rest of the day, I saw nothing even resembling iwakan, fear, discomfort, uncertainty, or discombobulation. No evasive actions were taken, or any of that kind of foolishness. Well, at least until I found myself on the Shinkansen back to Shin Yokohama... And the "bullshit" returned with a vengeance.
Thanks for the brief but much needed spiritual sabbatical, Kobe. I know where I can go when I need a break next time.